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Ontario’s minimum wage is frozen at $14. Could Ottawa set its own?




Less than a year after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives cancelled a scheduled minimum wage bump to $15, an expert panel is preparing to publish a report on how the federal government can better protect vulnerable workers — including the possibility of a federally mandated minimum wage.

The report, expected to be released publicly this month, could impact approximately 1 million workers across the country whose industries fall under federal labour laws, including banking, telecommunications and rail travel.

They could also have a significant impact at one of Canada’s largest workplaces — Pearson Airport, where workers have long lobbied for a $15 minimum wage and measures to prevent contract flipping. That practice sees employers subcontract out services and award them to different providers every few years, forcing workers to reapply for their jobs at reduced wages.

An April submission to Employment and Social Development Canada by the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC) notes that one contract flip where 300 employees see their wages “reset” could cost workers an estimated $900,000 a year.

Since starting at Pearson in 2006, control officer Yavar Qadri has survived at least two contract flips. One, in 2016, saw a wage reduction from $15 an hour to $13.55. Overall, he says wages at the airport are so low that many workers — from baggage handlers to flight attendants — juggle multiple jobs to stay afloat.

“How can our airport be secure when security workers are not?” he said.

Last year, following a round of consultations with workers and employers, Ottawa tackled some of these concerns, passing new legislation to give federally regulated workers three paid emergency leave days, scheduling rights that will allow workers to refuse last-minute shifts without fear of reprisal, equal pay for temporary employment agency workers and casual workers, and new contract-flipping protections that mean employees’ length of service will be treated as continuous when contracts change hands.

“What we heard, time and time again, was that our federal labour standards need to keep pace with modern workplaces. So we took action,” said federal Employment Minister Patty Hajdu in a statement to the Star. “We introduced a set of modernized labour standards to improve work-life balance and ensure fairness for workers.”

Some of these measures have yet to come into force, and are still subject to “stakeholder engagement.” Contract-flipping protections are expected to come into effect this September; in a followup submission to government this June, TAWC urged the government not togive in to employer push backfor a practice that has “devastated the wages and working conditions of thousands of working people in recent years.”

Measures to ensure equal pay for equal work for casual and temp workers are not anticipated to come into effect until 2020.

But the consultation process to create the new laws also found strong support for a minimum wage of $15 or higher in federally regulated industries, leading the government to convene the expert panel earlier this year to further explore workplace standards. Currently, federal-sector employees are entitled to the minimum wage rates set by their respective provinces, which in Ontario is $14 an hour. The report is expected to tackle whether the federal government should set its own rate.

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“I think there is a recognition that the nature of the work is changing … are there labour standards that ought to be afforded to workers who are in non-standard forms of employment that they are not currently receiving?” said panel chair Sunil Johal, who is the former policy director at the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think tank that closed in June due to funding cuts by the Ford government.

Flight attendants are one workforce seeking stronger protection from the feds: due to existing exemptions to the Canada Labour Code, they are currently paid only for time worked while the aircraft is in motion — which does not include hours spent at the gate, going through customs and security, or completing safety briefings.

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa





Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa





In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan





As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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